By Sheila Barth
Gloucester Stage Company’s hilarious production of Scottish writer Patrick Barlow’s farcical poke at noir mystery plays produced a reaction I rarely experience.
Kudos to Artistic Director/Director Robert Walsh, cast and crew. At last Saturday’s matinee of “The 39 Steps,” theatergoers and I laughed out loud frequently, mostly because of the cast’s stellar, outrageously zany, slapstick shenanigans.
Walsh gathered an ensemble of Boston-area’s finest, award-winning actors, whose impeccable timing, wackiness, rapid character and costume changes (kudos designer Miranda Kau Giurleo), accompanied by Russ Swift’s lighting, David Wilson’s battery of sounds, Emma Sharp’s clever simplicity with props, Jenna McFarland Lord’s minimalist set and overall stage effects earned standing ovations from sold-out crowds.
Surrounded by theatergoers on three sides, actors Paul Melendy, Gabriel Kuttner, Lewis D. Wheeler, Amanda Collins and Malachi Rosen (enhancing sound effects), obviously were having a great time, as Melendy and Kuttner frequently ad-libbed, making their co-actors and audiences giggle.
The plot takes second place to the cast’s wild wackiness, especially Melendy and Kuttner portraying clowns – without the clown makeup and garb- and other cameo roles.
Loosely adapted from John Buchan’s 1915 novel, “The 39 Steps,” and the 1935 British mystery thriller movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock, master of the unexpected and ironic, the two-act, 100-minute play focuses on Richard Hannay, (drily portrayed by Wheeler), a civilian in London who innocently becomes involved with Annabella Smith (terrific stunts by Collins), a beautiful attractive, counter-espionage agent, whom Hannay is accused of murdering. He escapes to Scotland to finds himself suddenly involved in trying to prevent an espionage organization named the 39 Steps from stealing British military secrets.
“The 39 Steps” has been performed in more than 40 countries, garnering major awards.
Based on theatergoers and critics’ enthusiastic responses, I’d wager Gloucester Stage Company’s production rivals outstanding productions anywhere.
If you saw this production of “The 39 Steps,” lucky you. If you missed it, you may want to see Richard Strand’s play, “Ben Butler,” appearing August 2-25,Wednesday-Saturday, at 7:30 p.m., also matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. at Gloucester Stage. It’s the story of the little-known political leader-Union general-activist and his inner struggle on whether they should harbor or return a runaway slave during the Civil War. Tickets are $15-$48, with discounts for seniors, military families, college students, 18-years-old-younger.
As part of the 267 E. Main St.,Gloucester theater’s Never Dark series, Ute Gfrerer performs in “Simply Sinful,”Aug. 11, and Ed Asner takes the spotlight in “God Help Us,”Aug. 20, at 7:30 p.m. NeverDark tickets start at $25. 978-281-4433, gloucesterstage.com.